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Luna golf teams enjoy great community support

By Staff | Apr 7, 2016

Four athletes on the Lahainaluna High School boys golf team have a chance to earn invites to the state tournament.

LAHAINA – On the one hand, it must be excruciatingly tough to coach a high school golf team, but then on the other, what could be more rewarding than to watch and mentor young teenagers as they grow as student athletes in one of the world’s most popular individual sports?

For Lahainaluna High School boys and girls coaches Suti Nitakorn and Laura Jones, respectively, the stress they sometimes endure in their leadership positions is further tempered by a community that supports its youth sports programs like no other.

For one, the Lahaina Junior Golf Association has grown over the last decade to form an elite training system for West Side youth that has paved the way to solid high school and collegiate careers in the game.

Another shining example of the support comes from the Kaanapali and Kapalua Resort golf programs. These are two of the world’s top luxury vacation destinations with global recognition for their golf venues. And the fairway to these facilities is always kept open for the Lahainaluna student athletes.

It helps that Coach Laura is married to Mike Jones, who just happens to be the director and general manager of Kapalua Golf, and that Coach Suti is the head professional of Kaanapali Golf Courses.

Both coaches concurred that the opportunities are unique and beneficial for aspiring youngsters in the game.

“We just really appreciate the openness of Kaanapali Golf to promote the game for the kids,” said Nitakorn last week. “Particularly people like Ed Kageyama, the general manager at Kaanapali, and Don Rosenthal, who helps so much with the Lahaina Junior Golf program.”

Laura added that husband Mike, the current president of LJGA, and Kapalua staffers Ben Hongo and Chris Noda all contribute to the positive development of the club and high school programs. “Also, Scott Soldwisch helps us immensely as Lahainaluna athletic director and as the MIL golf coordinator,” said Coach Laura.

Still, it was a tough pill to swallow for the Lady Lunas’ mentor, as her team fell short in MIL team play and finished second to Maui High for the second straight season.

“Yeah, that was tough, but now we can look forward to the individual qualifying matches throughout April. We have a good chance to get three of our players to states, and then we can play as a team there,” said Laura.

“I’m just really pleased with our young players and also how much of an honor it has been to coach our seniors – Caitlyn and Caylyn Villatora – who are going on to play at the University of Montana.”

The Villatora twins were the only seniors on the Lady Luna roster. They were joined by sophomores Hanna Valencia and Kyrstaleia Bettencourt, along with first-year players Kali Jones and Susi Namoa on the lineup card.

The boys team was young as well, with junior team captain Kaimi Kanaha the veteran of the squad along with classmate Antonio Bak. Freshman Matt Ramelb shone brightly in the team championships with a career best 38 against Baldwin. He was joined by sophomores Ezra Macadangdang and Jensen Powley on the Lahainaluna roster.

“We have four players with a solid chance to get to states,” said Coach Suti. “It has been really nice to work with kids of such solid character and to see the bonding chemistry of the team as a nucleus for positive momentum for next season.”

The MIL Individual Championships will be held on consecutive Saturdays throughout the month of April here on the Valley Isle at Waiehu, Wailea, Kaanapali and Kapalua, respectively. The state championships will take place on Kauai at the Wailua Golf Course in early May.

“We say thank you to all of these golf courses for being so receptive to the youth and high school programs. Their openness and generosity is so important to growing the game of golf for our youth,” Coach Laura concluded.